Sometimes it just makes life easier.
I smile and nod a lot as a teacher.
Sometimes it’s when students are talking about the latest music, television shows or trends I don’t understand. Sometimes I do it to avoid turning into a curmudgeon too early. I’ve recently smiled and nodded as some students explained to me the deep meaning behind the tattoos they’d rushed out and gotten as soon as they turned 18. I smile and nod at the new slang they use. I smile and nod at interests of theirs, that try as I might, I just do not get. Like adults that dress up as characters from My Little Pony; that’s a thing? And I often smile and nod when a student pontificates on and on about the hardships of being a teenager in 2013. Do you realize what an injustice not having a smart phone is?
I’m a big fan of smiling and nodding in other facets of life as well.
I do it when I don’t understand something but don’t want to look like an idiot; I probably smiled and nodded the first time someone said “pontificates” to me. I smile and nod when I’m stuck in conversations I don’t necessarily want to be in and I recently smiled and nodded, through plenty of gritted teeth mind you, when the police officer who pulled me over for not stopping for the full three seconds couldn’t be dissuaded for writing me out a citation, because as he pointed out, I did something wrong and I was being penalized.
You may say all of this smiling and nodding goes on because I don’t have a backbone or am scared of confrontation or am afraid of being honest and you wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. I mostly like to think I have a backbone. I mean I’m writing about my opinions on the internet for public consumption. In general I stand up for what I believe in and stick to my guns. However there are some situations in which I just feel that being an agent of change isn’t appropriate or productive.
A couple of weeks ago I was out at a party. It was late and safe to say everyone around me was feeling the effects of the alcohol. A gentleman I’d just met, a friend of a friend of a friend type situation, started telling me for whatever reason or other what was wrong with public education in Pennsylvania. A lot of it had to do with the teachers. Our introduction occurred in the midst of a game of flipcup. He was completely unaware I taught or else he probably wouldn’t have been slandering teachers so much. Before he dug himself in too deep, I told him maybe we didn’t want to go down that road because I disagreed with everything he said and informed him of my occupation. He told me he meant no offense and that I seemed like a great guy, with the sincerity that only comes after being six shots of whiskey deep. He then proceeded to start defending everything he said and trying to get me to see the faults of my profession. I could have argued back. I could have made a stand. It’s something that legitimately makes my blood boil, but he’d had a lot to drink. I’d had a lot to drink. The party was fun up until that point, so I simply smiled and nodded until I saw an out in the form of a passing friend. I conceded by not saying anything and don’t regret it. There was no argument, I wasn’t in a bad mood for the rest of party and ended up having a blast that night. I find being up on the soapbox all the time exhausting and I feel exhausted being around those who can’t get down.
I do dislike confrontation and 8 out of 10 times will avoid it if necessary. It’s a personal choice I know not everyone shares, but it makes my life that much less stressful. One main takeaway of my teaching career is to chose your battles wisely. Maybe a student tells a story that they know is inappropriate or maybe they slip up and say “shit” in front of you or think you can’t see them texting in their pocket and maybe you’ve already admonished them for their poor proofreading, forgetting their homework, talking out of turn, so you just chose to smile and nod instead of confronting them about every single thing they do wrong. Confrontations are necessary. Being a confrontational person is not, so sometimes I chose to just smile and nod when someone bungles my name (I’ve sadly learned to answer to Pat Brothel), bumps into me in the grocery store, or disagrees with my jukebox selection and sometimes when a waiter neglects to take the onions off my burger, I don’t nod because that’d be weird, but just smile and take the damn things off myself.
Am I afraid of being honest? Sometimes. While I’m a big believer in not bullshitting people, constructive criticism and not pretending to be into something I’m not, I’m also a big believer in the power of the well-intentioned and well-executed white lie. Sometimes it’s just adhering to the rules of politeness. There’s times you get stuck talking to people you normally wouldn’t. Waiting rooms, DMVs and work come to mind. Instead of making it unpleasant for everyone, and being unpleasant to one person does make it unpleasant for everyone in that vicinity, smile and nod. Don’t roll your eyes and don’t constantly admonish someone you dislike. Roll them all you want at home but in public, have a little tact.
Sometimes people don’t share your interests or talk about topics that bore you; elderly relatives come to mind (except for my grandmothers … if you’re reading this I hang onto every word you say). Smile and nod. Trick yourself into looking enthusiastic. You don’t even have to be listening. Let your mind wander, but look engaged. I’d rather be inauthentic than make someone else feel like shit.
There’s also a fundamental difference between being honest and rude. Should I smile and nod and tell a student they should drop out of school to pursue their rapping career because Eminem did just that? No, that’s not the time to be polite. Should I smile and nod and say that I do enjoy the music of a student’s band when they ask me to watch it on YouTube even if it’s godawful? Probably. I could be brutally honest but again, what would that accomplish.
Again, it doesn’t work for everyone but for me smiling and nodding, sometimes in excess, is just one of those things that makes life flow a little smoother. Try it out and see if you agree. Or disregard this post and just smile and nod along while reading it. Or let me have at it in the comments. As you’ve picked up I probably won’t fight back.
Photo: Candie_N (Welcome Fall)/flickr